Barbershops have changed a lot over the years. For example, back in the old days you’d never get a shampoo at one—that just wouldn’t happen. You dealt with the little bits of cut hair like a man—by scratching your neck and back and stomach until it was red. I still remember the day when they started to put sinks into my hometown barbershop. It was downhill from there. The scented shampoos replaced all the good stuff; the talcum powder, the scalp tonic, and most importantly, the straight-edge razor along with the leather sharpening strap. Now barbershops are like women’s salons except they still stick a barber’s pole outside so that men will go into them. Most barber’s poles don’t even rotate like they once did. It’s all fake now.
Boys used to go to the barbershops with their dads. It was there that they saw how a real shave was done. It was there where they got their first haircut away from doting mothers. And it was there that they learned about politics and how to engage in masculine banter.
Even after all the changes, men still like to blab in the barber’s chair. I suppose that there’s some male chromosome that gets us all talkative when we ease into that familiar and comfortable seat. We argue about manly things, mostly politics, sports and how things aren’t like they used to be. But even that’s changing because now I see more women getting their hair cut in barbershops. Barbershops are cheaper than salons and that might be the reason why more women are frequenting them. Or maybe barbershops have an easier way about them. In any case, men’s conversation is different when women are around so barbershop chatter has changed along with the times.
I’d stopped going to the barbershop when I worked in San Francisco back in the 1990’s. I had my hair cut (and shampooed) at a local salon back when men were invading salons just like women are now doing to barbershops. But, one day they made me put on a smock and that was the end of it for me. I never went back. While I might be an enlightened male, I draw the line at smocks in hair salons. It was then that I went back to the barbershop for good. I can’t get a shave there but I can, at least, keep my shirt on my back.
There’s a barbershop in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco that reminds me of the old days. It has a sign in the window. “TONY IS HERE,” it says. I’ve always wanted a barber named Tony and this place looks like the barbershop of my youth. I look into the window of this shop every time I pass it. I want to press my nose against the window and stare inside. And I long for the days when my dad and I would come out of our old, New Jersey barbershop, feeling all scratchy and smelling like cheap hair tonic.